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What's in store for Florida's 2013 legislative session

Legislators prepare to duke it out over more of the same: abortion, workers' rights, education, voting issues and campaign finance reform

Photo: , License: N/A

Photo: , License: N/A


It didn't take long for critics of the proposal to come out of the woodwork. On Feb. 14, the man responsible for blowing the whistle on Jim Greer, former Republican Party of Florida vice chairman Allen Cox, told the Times that the initiative left a giant loophole.

"If we really want to have sunshine for campaign finance reform, we should eliminate the massive loophole that allows the speaker and president to raise funds on behalf of the party, park them at the party, and then dictate to the party how and where they will be spent," he said.

On that same day, the League of Women Voters of Florida organized a conference call to decry the measure, specifically its focus on increasing funding limits to four times those allowed for federal races. League president Deirdre Macnab said that she was "deeply concerned" about the $10,000 figure, suggesting that higher contribution limits were a recipe for protected incumbency. Adam Skaggs, with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, backed her up.

"We commissioned research that demonstrated in states that have contribution limits up to $500, like Florida, incumbents enjoyed margins of victory over their challengers that are 14.5 percent lower than in states with contribution limits over $2,000," he said. "When states double their contribution limits, incumbents widen their margins of victory by seven points. So, essentially, the higher the contribution limits in a state, the more of an advantage incumbents have."

Skaggs went on to cite examples of higher campaign contribution limits (or no limits) leading to corruption in Missouri, New York, Maryland and most notably Illinois, where campaign misdeeds led to the conviction of two governors and the institution of new funding limits. He also found the logic behind Florida's exponential raise in limits to be counterproductive to political engagement. In a state that already boasts one of the lowest rates of participation, diminishing the value of a minor campaign contribution could only serve to discourage Main Street voters. Lloyd Leonard, the senior director of advocacy for the League of Women Voters of the United States, saw the move as nothing short of "institutionalized bribery" that would create an even stronger quid pro quo between corporations and candidates, all of it sneakily kept off the record.

"Our democracy needs both transparency and contribution limits, and it's simply not acceptable to say we should trade off elements from each when we need both," he said.

Besides, added Macnab, it wouldn't be out of character for the Legislature to remove the transparency aspects of the bill in the future, which should give Florida residents cause for "grave concern."

VOTING RIGHTS

After nationally derided voting delays in the 2012 general election that caused up to nine-hour wait times for voters in some densely populated areas, legislators have been backed into a corner to answer for Florida's 2011 omnibus voter-suppression law, HB 1355. That bill reduced early voting days from 14 to eight and set up punitive guidelines for voter-registration groups. Subsequent efforts by Gov. Scott and legislators to "purge" voter rolls and push through long and winding constitutional-amendment ballot language backfired enormously, sending Republicans in Tallahassee into vague backpedaling pronouncements that typically ended with blame being placed on county supervisors of elections. "Something should be done," was the general chorus coming into 2013. And, somewhat surprisingly, something is, and in an unexpectedly bipartisan manner.

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